■ FIGURE 6. A typical
“modern” IDE hard drive
ready for disassembly.
free graphical programming interface, as well as
a comprehensive teaching
curriculum to help
newcomers learn robotic
principles. Of course,
since it is powered by the
venerable BASIC Stamp II
microprocessor, it’s possible to skip
the entry level stuff and program the
unit directly using the free IDE.
There are similar offerings from a
variety of companies with some more
"focused" kits that are in the sub $20
range. These usually explore a facet
of basic robotics such as sensors or
motors (see Resources for a list of
low cost robotics kits). A good
example of this is the Light Spider
Robot Kit that sells for $12.25 (Figure
10) or the Aqualocator Robot Kit that
sells for $24.95 (Figure 11). These
"single purpose" robots are a good
place to learn and experiment with
facets of robotics without breaking
Sleeve) jack is
connect to the
and you can buy the DB- 9 to 3. 5"
cable pre-made from SparkFun for
about $7. However, to keep things
cheap I was able to make one from a
recycled serial mouse (removed the
cable with the correct gender DB- 9
connector) and a broken pair of
portable headphones (I clipped the
cable and used the 3. 5" stereo plug).
So all tolled, that’s a fully functional
prototyping kit for a microcontroller
chip programmed in Basic for less
than $10. To me, it's astounding that
so much power and versatility now
resides in the same footprint as a
classic 555 timer!
■ FIGURE 7. The parts of a 3. 5 inch
hard drive after disassembly.
(Time to complete this was
only about 30 minutes).
Past experience shows that it is
possible to continue to experiment
(and even build projects) if we apply
a bit of imagination. Let’s start by
exploring some no-cost strategies for
electronics and robotics projects.
ULTRA LOW COST
OKAY, SO HOW ABOUT
SOME NO-COST IDEAS?
Though I am (and continue to
be) a big fan of Parallax parts and
their incredible support, there are
some very interesting offerings from
other companies that have been in
the microcontroller game for quite a
while. For example, the UK company
Revolution Education Ltd. markets the
PICAXE series of microcontrollers.
Their PICAXE-08M is an eight-pin
chip that sports five I/Os, three
analog inputs, and is programmed
in a dialect of Basic. I found this
chip being offered on the SparkFun
website for $3.95 (Figure 12). In
fact, a complete kit that has a socket
for the PICAXE-08M microcontroller
chip, programming jack, and
prototyping area was selling for
$4.95 (Figure 13).
A 3. 5" stereo (i.e., Tip-Ring-
So, the pennies have been
pinched, the numbers have been
crunched, and it turns out that unless
you want to be programming your
projects by candlelight, you may
sadly have to forgo any more
expenditures in the electronics/
robotics department for a while. With
a budget of effectively zero, is there
any way to continue in your hobby?
Quite a few years ago (I shudder
to think), I was a typical "starving
artist" singer/songwriter with big
dreams of rock and roll stardom.
At loose ends during the day and
between gigs, I would head on down
to the local music shops and wander
the isles examining the newest breakthroughs in musical equipment. I
would often find myself salivating
over some hot new MIDI instrument,
effect processor, recording system,
sound processor, or PA system
gadget. It was particularly depressing
when I would return home empty-handed as times were tough and I
couldn't afford to buy any of these
■ FIGURE 9. The Parallax
■ FIGURE 8. A collection of wall wart
and “brick” style power supplies picked
up on shopping trips to the thrift store.
March 2009 73